Monday, February 04, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It has been two weeks since my last post on books and as usual, the comments and book suggestions in that post added several interesting titles to my to-be-read list- so thank you for sharing your reading life with me! Meanwhile, I found a few interesting reads to tell you about.

Image: Goodreads
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was a gentle and enjoyable read. It is an autobiographical novel written in the voice of a child, for children. Little Anna lives in Berlin as part of an affluent family with a father is a well known writer, until one day when Hitler's rise to power is imminent and they have to flee the country, leaving behind their toys and other belongings. (The title comes from Anna imagining that Hitler stole the stuffed toy that she left behind and is now playing with him.) What follows is Anna's story of moving from country to country, trying to fit in and create a new life each time she is uprooted. Even though the book is set against the backdrop of the ghastly war (and even as I was thinking of all the millions of children who were far less fortunate), the story itself focuses on Anna's everyday life, with small joys and tiffs and incidents in school. Anna is a thoughtful girl, wise beyond her years, and her thoughts are touching and amusing- like when she reads a book about the hardships that famous people endured as children and wonders if a difficult childhood is a prerequisite for fame, and if so, is her childhood sufficiently difficult or not? The edition I read was charmingly illustrated by the author. I'm adding this book to my Color Reading Challenge where the Pink in the title fits into the "any other color" category. PS: Thanks to reader Blog-E-Zine for recommending this book.

For adults who enjoy reading but often can't make the time or mental space in their lives for books written for adults, high quality children's literature is a good option. The language is simpler, the books are often shorter, there is a merciful dearth of sex and explicit violence (at least, one hopes) but the stories can be just as deep and touching.

Image: Goodreads
Below Stairs is the classic memoir by Margaret Powell which inspired the runaway hit Downton Abbey. I'm planning to watch the series one of these days and so I picked up this book. Set in the 1920s, Powell narrates her story of starting work at 13 as a kitchen maid and working for several years in domestic service. The story is plainly told in a very conversational style, and I felt as though I was sitting and having tea with a chatty and rather crotchety older woman talking about the good old days. Powell is very observant and very candid as she describes the stark contrast between the gentry living upstairs and the servants toiling downstairs in the basement. Powell narrates how the wealthy ladies who employed them would get together for fancy tea parties and proceed to spend much of their time gossiping about their problems with the servants. When I read this, I thought: The servants were overworked and underpaid and had reason to be unhappy but the sad thing is that these affluent ladies with their idle and stifled lives seem to be pretty miserable too.

As a child of middle class India, this memoir certainly struck a chord in me because in India you don't have to be particularly wealthy to have cooks and maids and nannies and chauffeurs and gardeners working for you. So many of the situations described in the book were uncomfortably familiar. The bottom line- this book does not have slick writing or editing, but for giving a voice to people that you don't often hear from, and for being thought-provoking, it is definitely worth reading. Have you watched Downton Abbey and do you recommend it?

This book goes towards my What's in A Name 6 Reading Challenge where it fits the category of books with "up or down" or their equivalent in the title.

Image: Goodreads
What's life without a juicy mystery? Right now, I'm sinking my teeth into A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley. This is from the Flavia de Luce series, and I must say this series gets better and better. In the first book, the pint-sized not-a-little-bratty detective Flavia peeved me so much that I'd have given up this series then and there, but luckily Niranjana stepped in and eloquently made the case for marching on and reading Flavia's next adventure or two. Strangely, now I'm enjoying these books less for the actual mystery (which Bradley tends to over-complicate) and more for Flavia, the precocious child-woman and chemistry genius. She can do a pregnancy test on a woman's hanky but wonders what an "affair" means. She helps the local police solve murders while missing the mother that she barely remembers. I want to say, "Oh, Flavia" and give her a hug. This book also goes into the Color Reading Challenge.

All my reading challenge updates can be found on this page.

So, what are you reading these days? I'm linking this post to It's Monday! What Are You Reading on Book Journey.

Come back on Wednesday, if you will, for a simple recipe with rice and peas.

43 comments:

  1. Thanks for your reading notes on "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" - i live in Germany, and wondered about the book and its title, but havn't read it so far. And children's books - i am reading through a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and am surprised by the violence they include. here's the link: 4 reads: desert books & fairy tales

    and color reads: how about the modern classic "The White Album" by Joan Didion? it's worth it already just for the line: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live.."

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    1. Dorothee- you're so right about the violence in the Grimm fairy tales, of course, what with kids being eaten by witches and ill-treated by stepmothers. I always read the abridged (sanitized) versions of these as a child and honestly as a child, they were merely fairy tales (not reality) and the violence did not bother me :)
      I'll definitely look for Didion's book!

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  2. Nupur I always enjoy your book posts besides the food posts :) (always gives me lots of ideas on what to read). I have been memorizing the How to talk... parenting book you recommended earlier. Loved it... so thanks for these posts! :)

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    1. I'm so glad you found that book useful- I actually just bought a copy. I never buy books (prefer borrowing them from the library) but this book is such a gem and I want it around for frequent reference.

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    2. Which book is this? Tried looking in archives but didnt find the title. very interested to know, thanks!
      Btw two books that are sort of related to parenting and on my shelf are - "Cinderella ate my daughter" (the author explores the girly girl, pretty pink culture in US - a topic close to my heart as a mother to a 4 year old daughter) and "Whats eating your child?" (exploring the relation between food and common ailments). I havent started reading either so no opinions so far :)

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    3. The book is "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen...And Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish. I've read both of those other books you mentioned and thought they brought up interesting points.

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  3. "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" reminds me of Rowan Farm
    by Margot Benary-Isbert. It's the story of a family uprooted by war and how they try settle down.

    I am so looking forward to the Spice Roundup.

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    1. I already have the swap round-up post in the drafts- excited for packages to begin arriving :)
      I'm going to look for Margot Benary-Isbert's books, thanks for mentioning it.

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  4. When hitler stole..seems like a nice read! Added to my queue of books to read! :)
    I am currently reading Sarah's Key. Amazing read and so poignantly written.
    -Neha

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    1. Hmm- I'll have to see what Sarah's Key is all about.

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  5. I liked the Bradley books better as the mysteries get less prominent also.

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    1. Yeah I wish he would craft better mysteries!

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  6. I am going to check 'Below Stairs', Thanks for the recommendation. I felt the same way while reading 'The Help' and couldnt help drawing comparisons between the novel and the realities of hired help in India.

    I am currently reading 'Best Food Writing 2012' edited by Holly Hughes. It has small essays, stories, articles or parts from books and is an entertaining read. The stories I've read so far have been about: (1) a food critic's experience after becoming a father, (2) An American pizza chef's search for a hard to find mushroom that he believes can win him a prestigious prize for his pizza, (3) A visit to an organic dairy farm and about the people who started it, (4) A father who is extremely possesive about a terracotta chicken brick that he fears his children will steal it when they leave home for college.

    - Priti

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    1. Ooh I love these "best xyz writing" anthologies, it is like eating a box of assorted chocolates. Those stories sound very intiguing!

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  7. I'm reading The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. It's a very interesting read, talks about how humans who were one with the nature in the Stone Age have over the ages become separate from it through Technological advances and cultural beliefs.

    Mamatha

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    1. Interesting- and I see the whole book is available free online. Might have to read a chapter or two. But I tell ya, I'm a big fan of things like indoor plumbing and vaccines, so I would definitely not like to live in the Stone Age.

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    2. Yes, I wanted to mention that but forgot when I was typing. I believe you can download it to kindle too. Or you can buy a hardcopy for any price that you deem reasonable. I guess I should have said primitive societies instead of stone age as the latter evokes images of brutish times. Many of the things he talks about reminded me of your blog - like giving up consumerism for creating, food as a primal mode of befriending, creating a community etc.

      Mamatha

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  8. Nice variety of books. I hope you are enjoying all of them. My Monday Report is here. Happy reading!

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  9. Glad that you are enjoying the later Bradleys! Yes, his plots are messy, and I quit caring who murdered whom by page 150 or so--but you keep going for Flavia's sake.
    I'm reading the new Nigella Lawson cookbook Nigellissima... perhaps you'll review it sometime?

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    1. I'll have to look for Nigella's newest cookbook; I quite like her recipes. I am certainly enjoying the later Bradleys!

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  10. I am adding Below Stairs and A red herring to my list. Finished Sound and fury,fantastic. Now PD James's Death Comes to Pemberely. It's reads like a Jane Austen!

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  11. Thanks for your book posts. I get so many new ideas from you and your readers. Judith Kerr's book looks like something I would enjoy. On the war theme I am 8 chapters into the book Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler. Mystery set in London during the blitz. So far I particularly enjoy the references to daily life during the war. There is a scene where the two detectives share a lunchtime sandwich on Waterloo bridge and watch the German warplanes drone towards them on the Thames estuary that particularly captures my imagination.
    I am finishing miss Reads's second book ( v leisurely in true miss read fashion during lunchtime), and listening to Jennings' diary on audio with my husband during the weekend.This book is SUCH a fun read and tells of all the scrapes a little boy at boarding school might get into.
    I finished the case of the gilded fly by Crispin- and I am so glad I did. Certain books are not such easy reads but certain facts about them stick in your mind , long after you have finished them. The writer has a really keen sense of wit, the detective is at the same time unconventional, funny and endearing- many lol funny moments in this book. This is why I have picked up the Moving toyshop by Crispin- the premise of the story is really fascinating.
    A kind friend gave me the midwife trilogy- the intro was so informative and written in an easy storytelling fashion- I'm sure I will enjoy.
    Well , sorry to be so rambling but that's me for now- reading 5 books at the same time at snail pace. Happy reading nupur.
    Arpita

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    1. You're wonderful to contribute so much to the book posts, Arpita! All of your current reads sound very interesting. I can't wait to start on Miss Read. You'll have to tell me what you think of the midwife series.

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  12. Downton Abbey is immensely watchable and enjoyable. I have viewed it over and over and am mesmerized by that quieter, gentler time, though once WW1 began, it was the beginning of the end of a graceful existence-for the privileged ofcourse! The series does have a few unbelieveable moments but I didn't care as the setting, the story and the characters just drew me in.

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited to start watching this series.

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  13. Good god, I actually read Judith Kerr's book in the original German ("Als Hitler das rosa Kaninchen stahl") and even did my viva on it (can't believe that at one point I could actually speak the language fairly fluently) :) It's the first novel that I read in a language other than English. Never mind that it's only a book for children...

    Have you read Fannie Flagg's books, by the way? The most well known probably being "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe". If I didn't know about the history of the Deep South, I'd be clamouring to resettle in Alabama, honestly! She makes life there sound so idyllic even in the non-idyllic moments.

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    1. No way! You're that fluent in German?? And yes, I've read Fried Green Tomatoes and enjoyed it very much. Maybe I should read her other books now that I live in the South :)

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  14. I have seen 2 of the episodes of season 3 of Downton Abbey. Seemed interesting, planning to watch the previous seasons to catch up.

    But I must tell you, I watched Cranford(which was again Masterpiece classic on PBS a few years ago)from the library. Very riveting and touching series. You must watch it if you can. Just started on the book.
    Sapna

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    1. I have Cranford on my to-read list but I did not know they have a Masterpiece production as well- I'll have to look for that.

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  15. Also Nupur, try watching Rosemary and Thyme on PBS. The ladies are simply superb.
    Sapna

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    1. I've seen every single episode of Rosemary and Thyme and I LOVED them :)

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  16. Downton Abbey is totally watchable. I liked it, Priya ( The Cooker) told me about it. Th ething is , I saw it on Netflix and there wasjust one season :( , kinda breaks the link.
    I am reading Maisie Dobbs- among the mad, so far, found it okay.

    I want to read ,'Miracles Happen'- Brian Weiss, have you read his works?

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    1. Nope- have not heard of Brian Weiss, and a quick google search leaves me quite doubtful that this is my kind of book, actually!!

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  17. had a big comment all completed and ready to publish.. when something suddenly went wrong:(
    anyways adding all three to my reading list.. :) and will be back to check more on your blog.. always love reading your posts.
    do check out the cookbook giveaway on my blog when you can
    myrandrspace.blogspot.com

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  18. I am now reading and HIGHLY recommend The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It is the author's interpretation of the story of biblical Dinah, the sister of Joseph. The writing style is par excellence and it provides a deep insight into the women's society of that age. The solidarity women used to enjoy makes me envious. Wonderful, wonderful read.

    I love reading kids stories too.. I had never discovered the wizard of oz as a child but I'm glad I can discover them now together with my children!

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    1. I put The Red Tent on my reading list- historical fiction is not typically my thing but I see many of my friends praising this book.

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  19. hi nupar, i am a regular visitor to your blog. But oflate each time i visit your blog i feel disappointed as there are very less recepie and there r more discussion about books etc. Please publish recepies more often

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    1. I've posted hundreds of recipes over the years, and these days, I tend to cook/bake from my tried and tested favorite recipes rather then trying new ones. But I'm reading new books all the time and trying new crafts so those are featured on the blog. Blogs often change as the blogger's life evolves and that's what is happening is- and I love it :)

      There are so many wonderful food blogs out there and I hope you'll find fresh new blogs to follow!

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  20. You sure do inspire me to go and make some crafty stuff. Thanks for the book suggestions. After having my son, my trips to library has significantly reduced. I do take advantage of loaning ebooks from libraries and I am thankful to the US library system for providing that option.

    Some of the amazing books I have read Glass castle and Half broken horses by Jeanette Walls. In case you have not read them they r great reads.

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    1. I've read Glass Castle but will look for the other one. Yes, US libraries are awesome for lending out e-books. Although I personally don't have an e-book reader yet so I go the old fashioned route :) When your baby is a bit older, you'll probably get to take him to story time etc. at the library.

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  21. I totally recommend Downtown Abbey!!!! I am just in love with it!!...How have you been? Long time no see(hmm...visited?)

    I wonder how you read so many books with Lila. Amo just doesn't let me read anything at all :(((...If I crochet, he cocoons himself with the yarn...so my projects are lagging behind as well.

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    1. I usually read after Lila goes to bed at 7 PM. Also while she's napping during the day on weekends, and while she's playing next to me. She sees me reading and wants to read herself!

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